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The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

download-10The Korean War (1950-1953) is not a war I am as familiar with. It is sometimes called The Forgotten War and unlike WWII, Hollywood made very few movies about the conflict – during or after. But in some ways, that is what The Bridges at Toko-Ri is about: men fighting a forgotten war.

Based on the popular novel by James Michener, which was in turn based on several different true stories, the movie focuses on Lieutenant Harry Brubaker, jet pilot in the Navy, stationed on an aircraft carrier and flying fighter-bombers. He is bitter, however, because he also fought during WWII and cannot understand why it had to be him who was called up again to fight. He would rather be back home with his wife, two daughters and his successful business as a lawyer.

The story is more like a slice of war-life. There is no overarching point, per se. The bridges at Toko-ri must be destroyed, says Admiral Tarrant (Fredric March) to show that the US will never give up in the war. He believes in the fight, but most of the men are simply doing a job. There is the loyalty the men show to each other. Mickey Rooney and Earl Holliman play two men whose job it is to rescue downed pilots in their helicopter. Charles McGraw is commander of the the pilots, a tough man, but one who takes care of his men.

There is a lot of footage of the carrier, the planes taking off and landing, flying and bombing, and it is impossible not to have a feeling of awe at what they do and the dangers they face, even the work that Mickey Rooney’s Mike Forney rescuing pilots.

The Bridges at Toko-ri has a very different feeling than the war films made during WWII. There was a sense that America was 100% behind the men fighting during WWII, but in The Bridges of Toko-ri, there is a sense that America is largely unaware of what is going on. This is also true for Brubaker’s wife, Nancy (Grace Kelly), who Admiral Tarrant warns will have to face the reality of the dangers her husband faces.

toko-ri-3At first, I was a little surprised to see Grace Kelly’s name in this film. It’s such a small role; she is only in the film for maybe twenty minutes, but she actually makes the most of it. Nancy has come to Japan to see her husband, having cut through all the red tape and regulations that usually prevents the wives from coming. What she represents in the story is everything that Brubaker left behind and regrets: his home, his job, his life, his children, and of course, his wife. She has to represents everything and she does it very well, bringing a fair amount of passion to the role that makes the sense of what Brubaker could lose by dying all the greater.

William Holden is excellent and it is his film entirely. He’s bitter, but not in a broody way. He mostly does his job, is deeply grateful to Forney for saving his life early in the film, deeply touched by his wife’s presence, scared at the prospect of attacking the bridges and simply doing his work. Admiral Tarrant asks in the end of the film, “where do we get such men?”

The cast is all good. This is the first time I’ve seen Mickey Rooney in anything other than his MGM musicals and comedies, but he’s actually great as the scrappy helicopter pilot who can’t seem to keep out of brawls. Fredric March plays a profoundly sad admiral, who already lost both sons in WWII and has a soft spot for Brubaker, who reminds him of one of his sons.

Spoilers – the movie does not end happily for anyone, though the mission to blow the bridges is successful. It’s a surprisingly gripping tale, though it is not the kind of film I usually watch. It seems to suggest that the reason these men fight is because that is what these men do. If they were home, they would have been working to accomplish the task at hand. Because they in Korea, they are working to accomplish the task at hand. The film is essentially a homage to these men.

toko-ri-4I didn’t intend it this way, but I just realized that this film was the perfect film to review today. It is Veterans Day in America and I wanted to thank each and every veteran – and their families.

This post was also written as part of the 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. In honor of Grace Kelly, I wanted to pay special attention to her role, despite it being small. In many ways, you could argue that she is wasted in this role, but the character is all the better for her performance. It’s the kind of role that could easily get lost, but she demonstrates what good acting (and sheer star magnetism) can do for a small role. I’ve been wondering recently how her career would have developed if she had kept on making movies. What would she have done in the ’60? What kinds of roles would she have taken on (I read that Hitchcock wanted her for Marnie)? But I am at least grateful for the films we have.

Thanks so much to Wonderful World of Cinema for hosting and be sure to read all the rest of the entries, which can be found here.

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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Movies

 

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Dial M For Murder (1954)

dialmformurderposterBecause Dial M For Murder is an unusually close adaptation of a successful play, it does not seem to garner the same attention that other Hitchcock films do. There is simply less to say about Hitchcock as auteur. But as a masterful film of suspense, red-herrings, and the overlooked little things that trip one up, it cannot be topped. I never tire of watching it; there seems to be something new to see each time.

The film begins with Margo Wendice (Grace Kelly), sitting in white at the breakfast table and enjoying a demure kiss with her husband, former tennis star Tony Wendice (Ray Milland). Next, it is evening and she is in a flaming red dress and enjoying a passionate kiss with mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), who is her former lover. They have broken off the relationship and believe that Tony knows nothing about it. He’s changed, Margo tells Mark. He’s a more attentive husband now.

And for good reason. In fairness, I should warn that this post is rife with plot spoilers. If you have never seen it before, it is a stimulating experience to watch the story unfold without prior knowledge. My only warning is that it’s a film you have to pay close attention to. There are a lot of red-herrings.

Tony, it turns out, knows everything about Margo and Mark’s affair. He married Margo for her money and when he realized that she could leave him flat, he concocted a scheme that was a year in the making. He’s going to blackmail an old school fellow from Cambridge, Swan (Anthony Dawson) – a man constantly skating “on thin ice” – into killing his wife for him. He has everything planned down to the last detail and it is a marvel as he calmly unfurls his plan to Swan, a man who is no slouch himself when it comes to criminal scheming, but has nothing on Tony.

But as mystery-writer Mark discusses with Tony and Margo, murders are only perfect on paper. People do not always behave exactly as you expect them to. Owing to a small change in the behavior of Margo earlier in the evening, instead of being murdered by Swan, she manages to kill him in self-defense with a pair of scissors. Tony’s year of planning is a shambles, but he quickly contrives a second plan, which seems to work much better. With the judicious planting of a few telling objects, he make it look like Margo deliberately murdered Swan. The police, lead by Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), seem to fall exactly in line and she is convicted of murder.

Robert Cummings, Grace Kelly, Ray Milland

Robert Cummings, Grace Kelly, Ray Milland – an insincere lot of people in this moment

To me, the most fascinating part of this film is watching people think, especially Ray Milland as Tony. There are moments when he realizes that he has miscalculated, but everything still seems to fall his way. Will he succeed? Will he not? What is going to finally trip him up? The film is full of red-herrings. For example, part of Tony’s original plan was to call his wife on the phone while Swan kills her. But he’s late and we, as the audience, are convinced that his lateness is what is going to save her life. But ironically, it is something that happened earlier, that we’ve already forgotten about, that saves her life.

Earlier in the evening, she didn’t want to stay home alone while Tony and Mark went to a stag party and he had to convince her, suggesting it was an ideal time to paste his press clippings into an album. He persuades her, but as a result her scissors are on the desk instead of in her mending basket, providing her an ideal weapon.

Even Mark Halliday is a red-herring. Because he’s a mystery writer, one keeps expecting him to be the one to bring Tony down. But in what is the finest twist, the police actually turn out to be rather good at their job. As Inspector Hubbard says, “The saints preserve us from the gifted amateur!”

John Williams played the role of Inspector Hubbard on Broadway and reprised it for the film. He initially seems like your stereotypical British officer, conscientious, following his own line of reasoning and apparently missing the important details. The first time I watched this movie I maligned him twice. I thought he was a stupid policeman, began to rethink it as he seemed to be getting at something important and then impugned him again when he appeared to drop it. Williams is perfect, lending the character sympathy and kindness towards Margo, impatience with Mark and complete satisfaction when he gets his man. He even gets the last shot of the film, brushing his mustache with pleased self-congratulation.

John Williams as Inspector Hubbard during the play's Broadway run

John Williams as Inspector Hubbard during the play’s Broadway run

Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings are perfectly fine in the film, but it really belongs to Ray Milland (with Williams coming in second). He’s smooth, sophisticated, and believes he has all the answers…which largely he does. But as much as he might feel like he owns people (as he says he feels about Swan), he doesn’t. He’s awfully good at it, though. He says he puts himself in the place of others to see what they will do.

But everyone does that to a certain extent, which is another part of the fascination of the film. Everyone thinks, realizes, and put themselves in each other’s shoes to arrive at the exact same conclusion at the end. Sherlock Holmes would be proud at how they logically arrive at the only possible solution.

Given all the red-herrings, this last time I was finally able to isolate the three things that undid Tony. They are the scissors, the latchkeys and the money. Three things that seem innocuous and – in the case of the money and the scissors especially – things we completely forget about.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Movies

 

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